Saturday, September 24, 2011

Illiteracy, bad gasoline and lack of housing, it's Iraq

In the June 20th snapshot we were noting that the literacy rate the US was imposing in discussions on Iraq was incorrect and that is impossible for literacy rates to jump from 40% one year to over 70% the next in the midst of a war. Doesn't happen.

Tuesday Al Mada reported on a new crisis in Iraq: illiteracy. The Ministry of Planning says that illiteracy has increased by 40% among Iraqi children. That's more in line with reality. War provides no academic curve for school children caught up in it.

In addition, Suha Sheikhly and Adam Youssef (Al Mada) report on Iraq's unemployment problem noting that Diwanya Province has the highest unemployment rate and speaking to a worker who left there for Baghad only to encounter a lack of jobs there as well. Friday saw a demonstration in Baghad and unemployment has been one of the issues driving the protests but not to the degree, the reporters state, as elsewhere in the Arab region. They spoke with 24-year-old protester Jabbar who said that there were few opportunities for work. Another protester is 26-year-old Mutashar who left his wife and child in Nasiriyah to come to Baghad and find a job only to discover there were no jobs in the capitol either.

Unemployment was not addressed by Nouri al-Maliki despite his promising in February that it would be. He asked for 100 days and he did nothing. The 100 day deadline long ago passed. Dar Addustour notes the response of Najaf's religious authority: Refusing to receive Iraqi politicians. And it's noted that what politicians discussed months earlier with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was not carried out.

Other problems faced include lousy gasoline. Despite being one of the largest oil producing countries in the world, Dar Addustour reports that Iraqis are getting sub-standard gas when they go to fill up and that it's harming the car engines. What's the reason for sub-standard gasoline? Some blame vendors, others blame the transfer of oil in tankers carrying things other than oil. Those blaming vendors are calling for laws to punish gas station owners who are caught mixing other substances into the gasoline.

Then there's the housing issue which we last noted in the September 16th snapshot:

Iraq's in its second consecutive month of inflation and Mayada Al Askari (Gulf News) interviews Iraq's Undersecretary of the Iraqi Ministry of Housing and Construction to talk about the construction boom in Iraq. (When you bomb a country repeatedly, you do create the need for a construction boom.) Excerpt:

GULF NEWS: How can you be so ambitious about building housing when the infrastructure's main element, electricity, is not available? Buildings -- as an example -- require lifts, electric water pumps, etc. How can communities live without electricity?

Faleh Al Ammiri: Certainly, the implementation of these projects requires time during which infrastructure and providing the community with electricity will be completed. As for major investment projects, electric power stations will be built to provide such projects with electricity as well as water and sewage systems.

What about paving roads in Iraq, why are there so many projects in this area?

Road networks in Iraq were previously neglected and the whole system is out-of-date as it was overused by the army, but we now have plans to refurbish the system. A renovation of the roads network is currently underway. Weigh stations across the country's provinces were officially announced lately, as overloads are the main reasons behind the recent road damages. There is also the intent to carry out a highway connecting Umm Qasr with the Turkish border, along with other roads connecting the Iraqi cities. Construction of bridges is also part of the plan, however maintaining roads and bridges require users to abide by load limits, and the provinces need to carry out their commitments in this regard.

The minister's not interested in housing people. It's a corruption scam waiting to be turned over as he confesses that "the ministry-run corporation has dozens of factorizes specialising in the production of concrete products including pipes, bridge pillars as well as asphalt, stone breakers and ready-mix factories". That quote right there also answers the question about why the ministry has placed so much emphasis on building roads at a time when Iraqis continue to lack not just reliable electricity but also potable water.

It's a lot easier to keep approving projects that enrich your own budget.

If you doubt it, why is South Korea winning a construction bid in Iraq? Why is any foreigner? Iraq's never suffered from lack of construction workers.

Iraq also suffers not from a lack of concrete. In fact it's a big mob industry in Iraq. But the Ministry's in it too. Hmm. Al Sabaah reports on how Iraq's got all these new houses and housing areas being built and yet the glut hasn't depressed market prices and the homes are so expensive why? Due to the high cost of the construction materials. Seems like that cost could be somewhat controlled if Iraq's Ministry of Housing and Construction were doing it's job -- and that's before you factor in the fact that the Ministry owns many of those construction material producing businesses.

And all of this comes as the Integrity Commission's finding on Iraqi real estate has embarrassed Nouri and forced him to make a move. Al Rafidayn reminds that he's stopped the sale of Iraqi property as a result of the Commission finding fraud and price manipulation by government employees in the real estate market. Nouri's quoted calling out the "corruption and abuse" in his government on this issue. The Commission has also located over a hundred million smuggled out prior to the start of the Iraq War, this would be under Saddam Hussein.

Annie Gowen (Washington Post) reported
yesterday noting 'hot' properities in Baghdad, Karbala, Erbil and elsewhere were listing for half a million and one million US dollars which has left your average buyer "priced out of the current market, bunking with extended family or riding out the boom in cramped rental apartments, feeling trapped and stuck." In addition, Wael Grace and Adam Youssef (Al Mada) report that many of the buildings go up in Baghad are a threat to the city's look and tradition both because they knock down existing structures -- Baghdad was highly populated city before the start of the war, not wide open spaces -- and because what is constructed is not in keeping with the city's aesthetic.

Wally and Cedric's joint-post went up a little while ago:

And stealing from their post, we'll note the community posts since Thursday night:

"Almond Chicken in the Kitchen"
"Translating the polling"
"2 bits of news"
"4 men, 2 women"
"3 women, 2 men"
"dems may lose"
"Danny The Pig Schechter"
"Death Penalty"
"Counter-insurgency and the Senate"
"Whiny Danny"
"Joe was right"
"Duchess & The Dirtwater Fox"
"Pinocchio Obama"
"Idiot of the Week"
"The hype"
"Ted loved Barry (Barry did not love Ted)"

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray applauded the passage of H.R. 2646, the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011. This bipartisan legislation will allow for new construction projects in five states and Puerto Rico and will allow VA programs to operate uninterrupted, including vital assistance to homeless veterans. The bill also includes approval for upgrades at the VA Medical Center in Seattle.

"VA has worked tirelessly to get veterans off the streets and into housing. Their efforts are commendable, but there is still work to be done," said Senator Murray. "H.R. 2646, as amended, contains critical extensions to many of VA's programs to end homelessness among veterans. Our nation's veterans have sacrificed much in their service to this country, we must make sure they receive the care and benefits they earned."

"I'm also delighted that this bill would allow VA to begin a $51.8 million project to seismically strengthen the nursing tower and community living center at the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System in Seattle, Washington. It is vital that this building be upgraded so that the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System can continue to deliver world-class healthcare to veterans in a safe environment."

Specifically, the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011 will:

· Allow for seismic corrections for Building 100 at the VA Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, in an amount not to exceed $51.8 million;

· Authorize job-creating infrastructure improvements to VA's facilities;

· Authorize increased funding for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which provides prevention and rapid rehousing assistance for homeless veterans;

· Authorize increased funding for the Grant and Per Diem program, which provides transitional housing assistance for homeless veterans;

· Reauthorize the special needs set aside in the Grant and Per Diem program which provides transitional housing for the frail, elderly, terminally ill, women, and those with children; and

· Reauthorize the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, which provides employment assistance for homeless veterans.


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